5 Possible Left-Back Replacements for Ashley Cole at Chelsea
There was a moment during the first half of England's 1-0 defeat to Germany this week that Ashley Cole looked as vulnerable as he ever has throughout his career.
Tracking back to close down Mario Gotze, the Bayern Munich midfield man had him in a spin, breezing past Cole with a simple drop of the shoulder.
If that moment wasn't bad enough for Cole, he struggled to recover from it, too, leaving Steven Gerrard to mop up after him.
Every defender, no matter their quality, will suffer from players of Gotze's ability at one point in their career. But for Cole, these moments are alarmingly becoming more frequent. And whereas he had enough about him to recover in the past, his opponents are finding him more and more charitable these days.
Is it a loss of form? A lack of fitness, even? Or worse, a sign that time is catching up with him? Only Cole truly knows, but at 32 years old, his performances are under greater scrutiny now than they have ever been.
This season is a vital one for Cole. Not only is he in the final year of his contract at Chelsea, but 2013-14 ends with a World Cup in Brazil.
Like any one of his England teammates, he will not only be desperate to make Roy Hodgson's squad, but his starting XI and in the face of a very real challenge for superiority from Leighton Baines, he knows he needs to rediscover his joie de vivre on the pitch.
Equally, as Chelsea look to continue their progress under Jose Mourinho, the Blues will be concerned that Cole's best days are behind him. If that's so, Mourinho will need to have his replacement lined up sooner rather than later.
Playing the role of Chelsea scout, Bleacher Report highlights five realistic targets who could fill the void any departure of Cole will leave at Stamford Bridge.
He's been hanging around the Chelsea first team for some time now, but we still know very little about Ryan Bertrand.
Rather than spending millions on replacing Ashley Cole, Chelsea should be looking to promote from within. After all, what does the club have to lose?
If Bertrand was given an opportunity and proved to be a success, Chelsea would have a player who has come through the ranks at Stamford Bridge to eventually become a regular, like John Terry before him.
It would be a great endorsement for the profile of their Academy and would also show that, with patience and endeavor, it's possible to be promoted up the levels at the club.
Thus far, Bertrand hasn't been afforded such an opportunity at regular football and it has impacted what we've seen from him. From promising displays on occasion, he has been equally disappointing at times.
He made his Champions League debut in the 2012 Final—the first player to achieve such a feat—although his Blues career has regressed, if anything, since that time.
Until he gets a proper crack at the whip, however, what Bertrand can achieve in his career remains nothing but conjecture.
English football is very much in the doldrums right now. Confidence in the national team is at its lowest in a long time, while we are often reminded of the low number of indigenous talent in the Premier League.
There are some reasons to be hopeful for the future, however, and Southampton's Luke Shaw is one of them.
Still only 18 years old, he has been one of the stars of the Saints team that has clawed its way into third place this season—just over a year since they returned to the top flight no less.
Shaw is a player with an exciting future and without doubt will be an England regular in years to come.
If Chelsea aren't going to give Ryan Bertrand a chance to prove himself as Ashley Cole's successor (see Slide 1), a move for Shaw would be a shrewd one.
In fact, the youngster could even save Cole's Chelsea career, potentially keeping him at Stamford Bridge to help nurture Shaw's talent and prepare him to not only take over his Chelsea place, but that with England, too.
For some, his youth will prove a major negative, yet looking at this Chelsea side, it is one where young stars such as Oscar and Eden Hazard are becoming the senior players, proving age shouldn't be such an influence.
The Swiss international is a rising star of the European game and he has shown enough in his two years in the Bundesliga to suggest he will go on to bigger and better things.
With respect to his current club, Wolfsburg, he is fast outgrowing them. With his willingness to get forward and support the midfield, he could prove ideal in the development of this Chelsea team.
Jose Mourinho is notorious for encouraging caution in his full-backs, but as Chelsea develop into a more free-flowing unit, the time will come for players of Rodriguez's ilk to help drive them forward from the back.
That's not to suggest we can expect the Blues to become gung-ho at any moment, but there is more emphasis on attack in this Mourinho team than we saw in his first stint, of which Rodriguez would complement.
At 5'11", he's not exactly diminutive either, so he will provide a more physical presence on the flank to what Chelsea are used to, and alongside his attacking instincts, he is an able defender.
Arriving from Europe will mean he would cost a fraction of a player based in the Premier League, and given Wolfsburg are not among the Blues' European rivals, this is one transfer that could potentially prove easier to secure than others.
It's a clear indication that Real are willing to depart with his services, and United's loss in September could prove to be Chelsea's gain.
Indeed, Coentrao is a talented individual with heaps of experience and knows Jose Mourinho well, having worked under him for two seasons in Spain. At 25, he is yet to reach the peak of his powers, and being in his mid-20s also means he has many years of football ahead of him.
Since United's failed attempt to bring him to Old Trafford, Coentrao hasn't exactly been a regular at the Bernabeu, making just four La Liga appearances.
It means a move as soon as January may not be out of the question, giving the Blues time to integrate him into their line-up and share defensive duties with Ashley Cole heading into the World Cup.
Monaco's 21-year-old left-back may not be one of the most glamorous names in European football right now, but his performances this term for Claudio Ranieri's team suggest that could change very soon.
He is a product of the Monaco youth system, joining the club in 2007.
It says much for his talent that, in a team where the billions of their owner, Dmitry Rybolovlev, has allowed the club to bring in the likes of Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez, Kurzawa has been a regular in Ligue 1 this term.
His stats make for impressive reading too, averaging 1.8 tackles per game, coupled with 3.4 interceptions.
Not only that, he is a threat going forward. This season he has two assists and also made attempts on goal.
Chelsea have made a point of snapping up some of the world's best youngsters in recent years, and Kurzawa could be another of those worth running the rule over as they look to the future for when the time comes to replace Ashley Cole.
*Stats from WhoScored.com.
Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @garryhayes